Stanford president Marc Tessier-Lavigne promised a group of alumni on Tuesday that he would consider its proposal to save 11 sports from being eliminated at the end of the current school year.
Jeremy Jacobs of the lobbying group 36 Sports Strong said alumni were encouraged after an hour-long meeting with school administrators and Stanford board of trustees members, including outgoing chairman Jeffrey Raikes.
“We believe President Tessier-Lavigne and the board’s athletics subcommittee are trying to lead an earnest effort to review the decision,” Jacobs said.
However, Jacobs, a former men’s volleyball player, also said the group told school officials it would continue its lobbying efforts: “We were very clear we’re not going to let up what we’re doing,” he said.
A July community letter announcing the cuts led to a backlash in which some of the school’s prominent former athletes signed a petition calling for the reinstatement of the programs. So far, the group said it has more than 4,000 signatures.
The group also said more than 1,500 emails have been sent to Stanford leaders expressing outrage and that 200 alums have joined a boycott to withhold donations.
Citing budget shortfalls because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Stanford officials announced they would cut men’s and women’s fencing, field hockey, lightweight rowing, men’s rowing, co-ed and women’s sailing, squash, synchronized swimming, men’s volleyball and wrestling.
A July 8 letter to the Stanford community said the athletic department faced a projected $25 million deficit in the fiscal year 2021. School officials said they forecast a shortfall of almost $70 million over the next three years.
The “36” in the lobbying group’s name represents the number of sports Stanford has been fielding. The school has more than double the national average of sports programs.
Some of the famous alumni supporting the group are Andrew Luck, Keri Walsh Jennings and Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J).
Other prestigious athletics who have signed the petition are Jennifer Azzi (basketball), Tony Azevedo (water polo), Bob and Mike Bryan (tennis), Julie Foudy (soccer), Jessica Mendoza (softball), Mike Messina (baseball), Jordan Morris (soccer), Summer Sanders (swimming), Keri Strug (gymnastics) and professional golfer Michelle Wie, a Stanford graduate.
Jacobs, who attended the video meeting Tuesday, said the group proposed a partnership centered on a way to self-endow the sports programs in exchange for immediately reinstating all of the teams.
He said Tessier-Lavigne and the board members agreed to present the idea to the full board at an upcoming special meeting.
Jacobs said six athletes represented alumni, including former star basketball player Adam Keefe and current Olympic fencer Alexander Massialas.
Provost Persis Drell, vice president for development Jon Denney and athletic director Bernard Muir also participated in the meeting, he said.
Stanford officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
“We shared our belief that the decision to cut the teams was made because of looming pressure from the pandemic, but a year later, as the school is returning to normal operations with its endowment thriving, there are better options that should be considered,” Jacobs said.
Jacobs said the alumni group outlined how cutting the relatively low-cost 11 sports would not solve the athletic department’s financial troubles. Stanford does not make as much as many other Power Five schools based on attendance for football and men’s basketball. As a private university, its budgets are not publicly available.
“We said Stanford should take this opportunity to re-engage alumni, leverage Stanford’s sports economists and business experts, boost giving and fulfill the promises Stanford made to students and recruits,” Jacobs said. “We told them now is their chance to regain the trust and respect in the university that has been lost over the last nine months.”
Massialas, a two-time Olympic medalist in foil, said last week the model for NCAA funding is broken.
“Stanford sets an example amongst all the other NCAA schools as to how to have successful programs while also maintaining academic and athletic excellence across every single sport,” he said.
Jacobs said the group told school officials they have raised $30 million in pledges in a half year.
“There is money out there Stanford hasn’t figured out how to tap into yet,” he said.
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Author: Elliott Almond
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